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Alphabetical Africa

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  169 ratings  ·  25 reviews
Chapter by chapter, Abish lets in one letter of the alphabet; then, one at a time, he takes them all away. From this premise arises a mysteriously absorbing narrative of African adventures.
Paperback, 152 pages
Published January 17th 1974 by New Directions Publishing Corporation
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Abish adroitly actualizes Africa. Arts and ambiance. Ants, alligators and antelopes. And attractive Alva.

Brilliant, albeit a bit boring, alphabetical adventure amuses.

Cross continental chase after Alva carries author all around Africa. Characteristic African culture becomes apparent.

Demanding constraints delimit Africa's alphabetical boundaries.

Experimental aspects don't always dominate composition.

First few chapters are a bit constrained, as expected. Further chapters bring freedom and don't ap
I suppose any review of this book has to explain the unusual form. I'll try to be brief: the first chapter is composed entirely with words that begin with the letter "a", the second with words beginning with either "a" or "b", and each successive chapter adds a letter until the 26th chapter (which can make use of words beginning with any letter) at which point the process reverses until we end back at "a".
Quite a few things surprised me about this book. First of all, I was surprised at how much
Zöe Yu
Africa is a mysterious place.

Boring with all the ants and antelopes and the click language, because it feels plain.

Continent probably is a proper word for this huge riddle.

Duel with words seems not the only job for the writer.

Enjoyed the book, but the plot is obscure.

Form did matter in a creative writing, at least in this case, the author convinced me. Before, I don't quite believe it.

German in the book is attractive to me, I believe it says something.

High expectation of the book may bring
Joseph Nicolello
Alphabetical... basically considers dictionary-entropic fallacy/ghosted, Hegelian-incessant jocular kaleidoscopic longings, mountains, nebular oceanic portraits, Quixotic. Running sick through umbrellas, vehicles with xylophones, yearning zodiacal. Zebras, yes, xylitolically weathered, verified - understanding. This something, rumbling, quick plucked Onyx nay myopic landscape, kicking justified idolization hollowed, gone, falling. Evenings, desert. Can, beer, ass. About this book. Book about. Cl ...more
Jul 07, 2010 astried marked it as want-want-want
A peek on first paragraph:

"Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex's admonition, against Allen's angry assertion: another African amusement...anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa's antipodal ant annexation. Albert argumentatively answers at another apa
Walter Abish is not, and has never been, a member of Oulipo, yet he made his debut as a novelist with this Oulipo-like work. At first I admired his experimental prose. Writing a chapter only using A-words is not easy by any means, and much less so when you try to write some reasonably interesting story under such a constraint. But after a while several shortcomings raise their ugly heads: First of all, there isn't much of a constraint after the chapter H -- as soon as he is allowed to use the wo ...more
I dreamt of this book last night, though I didn't dream of the plot. I dreamt of the structure. I found myself composing sentences in my sleep, and each word in the sentences began with an A, B, or a C.

In "Alphabetical Africa", each word in Chapter 1 begins with the letter A. In Chapter 2, every word begins with an A or a B. The vocabulary is expanded, letter by letter and chapter by chapter, through Z. Then, the process reverses, and the book works its way back through the alphabet, letter by l
Jim Elkins
This book isn't simply "in the line of writers such as Raymond Roussel, Raymond Queneau, Georges Perec and Harry Mathews," as Ashbery says in the back cover copy. That's because, unlike those authors, Abish does not try to match his stories with the constraints he gives himself. His linguistic constraints are "terrifying and irrefutable," as Ashbery says (chapters from A to Z and back to A, each one containing only a subset of letters of the alphabet), but the stories he tells are carefree and f ...more
Thesaurial splendor. (I know, I know, but your thesaurus is probably old!)

Although this was very clever, and surprisingly easily read once you add some B and C words, the tale was not the thing.

I’ve told everyone I know about the gag, but not about the storyline.
As a big fan of "experimental" novels, I thought I would enjoy this more. It's an incredibly interesting concept, but doesn't really seem to come together as a novel. Unfortunate.
Leo Robertson
Suspect this guy is Abish's son :D

stylistically weird and entertaining- winning combo!
Ben Mcfarlane
Calling this word experiment a novel seems a bit dishonest to me.
I first heard of this book from The Art of Fiction by David Lodge. Under the section on "experimental novel" Lodge made mention of lipogram novels. Perec, of course, wrote something called La Disparition, a novel allergic to letter "e" in French. The English translation, A Void, was true to its linguistic esprit.

The American writer Walter Abish (b. 1931) does something similar in his first novel [Alphabetical Africa]. The rules of its construction are alphabetical. There are fifty-two chapters,
A wonderful little novel in the vein of Mid-Century Experimental Fiction Written Largely By White Dudes Who Look Kind Of Hideous, which is to say the narrative both (1) is incomprehensible through most of the work and (2) nevertheless moves along steadily and strangely and mesmerizingly like lava down the side of a volcano. Also contains a great journal entry by a man who's been kidnapped by ants: "Ably barter another belt and acquire a Baedeker and barbiturates. Admittedly, all ants are below a ...more
Apr 06, 2014 Ed rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: oulipo
A fun read in the same spirit as "Ella Minnow Pea" and "A Void". All of the words in chapter 1 begin with the letter 'a'. Chapter 2's words begin with 'a' and 'b', etc. until in chapter 26, when words beginning with all letters are used. They are then scaled back again one-by-one over the next 26 chapters.

The story builds as the letters are added, following an author, a beautiful blonde and two criminals as they crisscross Africa, a continent that diminishes and erodes as the story goes on.

It to
John Wiswell
Nov 15, 2007 John Wiswell rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Literary readers, poetry readers, prose poetry readers, people who need something new
A great experiment in composition, Alphabetical Africa’s first chapter only uses words that begin with ‘a.’ One sentence might read, “An ant ascended all apexes,” though Abish’s sentences make a little more sense. The second chapter only uses ‘a’ and ‘b’ words; “An ant ascended because all ant brothers aspired .” Each successive chapter adds a letter, until the twenty-sixth can use any word at all. Then he descends, removing one letter at a time, so that the last chapter is composed only of ‘a’ ...more
Tony Gualtieri
I enjoyed this a great deal. It was funny, engaging, and interesting. The oulipian constraint gave the book an interesting narrative drive: as the letters disappeared, one knew the characters would disappear as well. Reaching P2, I knew that Queen Quat would be gone. At H2, the first-persona narrator would morph into the more abstract "author." In the end, there would be only Alex, Allen, and Alva.

It also worked well that Africa shrank with the vocabulary.
Derek Davis
I should add another shelf, "didn't really try hard enough." Abish's "How German iIs It" is one of my favorite novels of all time, but this one, for me, is too much of a gag attempt, an authorial joke that's certainly fun to do but shouldn't necessarily be published. But no, I didn't give it a decent chance, but I've still got 20-30 books on the "in-the-middle'-of" shelf. Let someone else have a chance at this when I drop it off.
Bill Faris
Not so much a story as a process. It's kind of like watching the evolution and flowering of language. The author only allows himself to use words beginning with "A" in the first chapter, "A" and "B" in the second chapter, and so on until he has the full alphabet at his discretion, and then he starts working backwards, subtracting a letter each chapter until he ends with "A." Watch Abish find freedom through constraint.
Entertaining. At times funny. Self-referential. Not a memorable story, but the technique becomes part of the story itself and that gives it substance.

I had been showed the book as one that was supposed to be difficult to read. I do not think it is. The reader needs to be patient and take it in, as with most books.
Ian Evans
One for the grad students, but surprisingly good. The first chapter is sentences only containing words that begin with "A". The second is sentences only containing words that begin with "A" or "B". The third.... And so on until it's all the letters, and then Abish reverses himself.
MJ Nicholls
Nov 13, 2012 MJ Nicholls marked it as books-found-in-books
Michelle Williams
If you enjoy books for their writing process, this constricted style might be of interest. Otherwise, skip it.
Goge (BARRONS) le Moning Maniac,
I'd forgotten I'd heard of this book before. And now? I want to read it. Yes, PLEASE!! X)
Frank Farrell
A complete hoot!
Ashley Gorton
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Walter Abish is an American author of experimental novels and short stories.

At a young age, his family fled from the Nazis, traveling first to Italy and Nice before settling in Shanghai from 1940 to 1949. In 1949, they moved to Israel, where Abish served in the army and developed an interest in writing. He moved to the United States in 1957 and became an American citizen in 1960. Since 1975, Abish
More about Walter Abish...
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“Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex's admonition, against Allen's angry assertion: another African amusement... anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa's antipodal ant annexation.” 2 likes
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